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Will Biden’s new US Climate Corps live up to the success of the California Conservation Corps?

On Wednesday, President Biden used his executive authority to create the American Climate Corps, which will employ and train 20,000 young people in climate resilience work.

Similar but more modest than the famous CCC – the Civilian Conservation Corps established by Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1933 during the Great Depression – the ACC can provide young people with long-term job skills while accelerating the nation’s transition to renewable energy .

Biden had hoped that an updated, climate-focused version of FDR’s body would be a provision of the Build Back Better legislative efforts he introduced early in his term. This program was watered down, with the Climate Corps being part of the losses. Republicans and some Democrats — notably Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) — attacked it as a waste of money and “pure socialist wish fulfillment.”

The corps’ enemies, however, never doubted its effectiveness. That’s because California proved the value of a modern CCC years ago.

The California Conservation Corps, established in 1976 by then-Gov. Jerry Brown currently has 1,634 members, mostly between the ages of 18 and 29, who typically serve for about a year. They join frontline battles against climate emergency wildfires and floods, restore river habitat, “manage” forests, build and maintain wilderness trails, and equip homes, schools and solar panel companies and other forms of clean energy through state contracts.

The body counts its achievements according to a series of measurements. Since its creation, for example, its members have planted 24.6 million trees, improved national and regional parks at the cost of 11 million man-hours and filled more than 3.5 million sandbags during floods and storms.

The reward has been good for California, but it is also personal. If new corps members do not have a high school diploma (about 15 to 20 percent do not), they must obtain one through the corps’ school partnerships. This tuition adds 10 hours to their 40-hour work week and opens new opportunities for more training and scholarships. California Conservation Corps alumni have gone on to become professional firefighters, hydrologists, electricians and park rangers.

In recent years, I’ve seen corps crews use chainsaws to burn “dangerous trees” in a state park east of Lake Tahoe, clear road obstructions during a storm, and cut down fire lines under the direction of Cal Fire in Butte County. .

One of the chainsaw team members, Elizabeth Wing, who was 21 when we met, summed up her experience by joking: “We’re sure we’ll keep our promise.” » She was referring to the guarantee contained in the corps motto: “Hard work, low pay, miserable conditions, and more!” The “more” in the motto works differently for each member of the body.

“I was moving from job to job and wanted to be part of something bigger than myself,” recalls Luie Valez, a 26-year-old firefighter with the corps. “Since then, I haven’t looked back.”

“I’ve had a lot of crappy jobs, but not this one,” admitted Martin Castellon, who grew up in Tijuana and San Diego and spent his 26th birthday shoveling snow for bodies at his residential center in Tahoe.

“The fact is, this is not a bunch of troubled kids like a lot of people think,” adds John Alviso, 24, another firefighter and former army reservist. “These are people who want to learn and have a career and are willing to work hard to achieve it. »

Bruce Saito, director of the California corps, expects his organization and more than 150 similar organizations across the country “to benefit from Biden’s incredible approach and action.” It provides “dedicated grants to each state to strengthen and advance the work, (and) enrollment service opportunities for thousands of young people to serve and solve climate issues, not just for California.”

Biden’s use of executive power to resurrect his Climate Corps idea is in part a response to young voters’ climate fears and frustrations. When he green-lighted the Willow oil drilling project in Alaska earlier this year, there was immediate backlash from young voters and environmentalists. The ACC’s national effort, which so far consists of a recruiting website, could help motivate a badly needed 2024 cohort for Biden.

On the other hand, the ACC is guaranteed to be constantly criticized by the same forces that knocked it out of the Inflation Reduction Act last year. After all, Republican leader Sen. Mitch McConnell (R.-Ky.) claimed during legislative battles that the body’s idea was a way to “tyrannize every state to become more and more like California.” “.

Replace the word “bully” with “inspire” and I hope that’s exactly what happens.

David Helvarg is a writer; executive director of Blue Frontier, an ocean policy group; and co-host of “Rising Tide: The Ocean Podcast.”

Los Angeles Times

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